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Guns have no place in our schools

Tribune Staff • Dec 12, 2017 at 1:00 PM

The superintendents of our two local public school districts last week sent identical letters home to the parents and guardians of their students, blasting pending state legislation that would change Michigan law to allow people to carry concealed firearms into their school buildings.

The letter shows a united front strongly opposing these ill-conceived measures.

Ottawa County’s own state senator, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, is the author of one of the three controversial bills. It has been reported statewide that Meekhof timed the legislation in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and at a church in Texas.

"Some have said it’s insensitive to bring up these issues now, but I feel quite the opposite," Meekhof told a standing room-only crowd in the Senate Government Operations Committee, as reported Nov. 7 by Kathleen Gray in the Detroit Free Press. "The recent events will allow us to look at how we can deter those who want to do harm. And responsible, well-trained, licensed concealed-pistol holders can be one of those deterrents."

Really? Do we want lightly trained citizens participating in a deadly shoot-out in our schools? Because that’s what Meekhof is promoting.

Here’s what the Senate passed in early November and is sitting in a House committee, according to michiganvotes.org:

Senate Bill 584, introduced by Meekhof, would authorize an exemption from the “gun free zone” restrictions in the law authorizing shall-issue concealed pistol licenses, if a licensee applies for an exemption and meets certain additional training requirements (eight hours of extra instruction that includes firing at least 94 rounds of ammunition on a range). A person renewing a license with this exemption would have to take at least three hours of review training. No-carry zones include schools, day care facilities, sports stadiums or arenas, bars, bar/restaurants, places of worship, college dorms and classrooms, hospitals, casinos, large entertainment facilities and courts. Under the bill, private property owners could still ban guns, schools could prohibit teachers and staff from carrying guns, colleges and universities could still restrict guns, and licensees could not openly carry a gun in a no-carry zone.

Note that schools could stop their teachers and staff from carrying guns on campus, but it does not allow the schools to prohibit the general public from doing so. Or students. And that’s where Senate Bill 366 comes into play. It would authorize a “provisional” concealed pistol permit for adults ages 18-20, which would expire at age 21. Many high school seniors are 18.

Frightened yet?

The third piece in the gun legislation is Senate Bill 586, which aims to “clarify that a state law that pre-empts imposing local government restrictions on firearms (including registration; purchase, sale, transfer, transportation, or possession regulations; and taxes) applies equally to a community college, public library, local authority or any other political subdivision. This would also apply to school districts and intermediate school districts, except they could still ban possession of firearms by students.”

Well, at least that bill would allow school districts to keep guns out of the hands of their students, if they choose to do so.

Meekhof’s legislation, SB 584, includes a provision that addresses what school officials are saying is a disruptive issue, that of open-carry. It would effectively bar gun owners from openly carrying their weapons in gun-free zones. They would have to remain concealed, or hidden.

"That’s the part that causes the schools to shut down and lose a day of educational experience for students and that’s problematic," Meekhof said.

Not surprisingly, Meekhof has the support of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.

But the opposition is strong. School districts across the state, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Education Association, and other organizations and individuals are campaigning to stop this nonsense in the House.

In the letter sent to the homes of Grand Haven Area Public Schools and Spring Lake Public Schools students, school officials decry the proposed removal of their “authority to make a determination regarding the carry of a concealed weapon on school property and at school-sponsored events.”

As the school officials point out, the opposition to the legislation is not about firearm ownership. It is about the right of your elected school board to fulfill their appointed duty by making policy decisions that best serve their own community to keep their students and staff safe.

“At present, our Board of Education believes that law enforcement officials are the experts that should be able to possess active firearms on school property and at school events,” both the GHAPS and SLPS letters state. “Additionally, we have great concern that should we have an active shooter crisis, law enforcement could be greatly hampered by determining which individuals are holding concealed-carry permits and thus reducing response time and/or putting innocent lives at risk.”

The letters go on to encourage parents to contact their state representative, Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, to vote the bills down, and ask Gov. Rick Snyder to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. We also encourage the greater community to do so — and furthermore, to send a note to Meekhof that his idea is more than ill-timed; it’s just wrong on multiple counts.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Mark Brooky. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

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